After the world's largest nuclear accident took place at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine 30 years ago, little human life is seen in the area. However, a recent camera study from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory has revealed that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) is teeming with wildlife populations.
The study is the first remote-camera scent-station survey to be conducted within the CEZ and reveals the various species that are abundant in the zone, supporting previous research that suggests animal distribution is independent of radiation levels.
The CEZ comprises the bordering lands of Ukraine and Belarus, which were hit by the radiation fallout stemming from the accident that took place on April 26, 1986.
Within the southern region of Belarus is the Polesie State Radiation Ecological Reserve, an area with over 834 square miles of unique landscape, including forests and developed lands, that possess a wide range of radiation.
A previous study revealed that animal populations were thriving in the CEZ, although the team came to their conclusion by counting animal tracks. Conversely, the current team used remote camera stations to provide more accurate results.
"The earlier study shed light on the status of wildlife populations in the CEZ, but we still needed to back that up," said James Beasley, an assistant professor with UGA's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and senior author on the study. "For this study we deployed cameras in a systematic way across the entire Belarus section of the CEZ and captured photographic evidence - strong evidence - because these are pictures that everyone can see."
The study covered a five-week period at 94 sites using 30 cameras, with each camera attached to a tree or tree-like structure for seven days at each location. The stations were equipped with fatty acid scents to attract animals.
The results revealed 14 species of mammals on the camera footage, with the most frequent ones being the gray wolf, wild or Eurasian boar, red fox and raccoon dog. All of these species were seen close to or within highly contaminated areas.
"We didn't find any evidence to support the idea that populations are suppressed in highly contaminated areas," Beasley said. "What we did find was these animals were more likely to be found in areas of preferred habitat that have the things they need - food and water."
Although the study provides verification for the previous findings, Beasley claims that additional research is needed "to determine the density of wildlife and provide quantitative survival rates" in the ghost town of Chernobyl.
The findings were published in the April 18 issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.